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The Royal Society of Literature has submitted a petition for reform to the Charity Commission, with the support of several authors.

for overhaul The Royal Society of Literature has submitted a petition for reform to the Charity Commission, with the support of several authors.

The RSL has announced that it will be reporting itself to the Charity Commission in response to a letter signed by prominent authors, such as Ian McEwan and Alan Hollinghurst, requesting for it to do so.

The RSL, a charitable organization that selects members based on their literary achievements, has faced criticism in recent months. Concerns have been raised about changes in the selection process for members and the delay of their yearly publication, Review. In an interview with the Times, former editor Maggie Fergusson revealed that an article criticizing Israel led to the magazine being pulled from print. There have also been reports that Fergusson was fired, but the RSL denies this and claims it was mutually agreed upon that this would be her final issue as editor.

Fellows have also expressed their disappointment in the RSL for not taking a public stand in support of Salman Rushdie when he was stabbed in 2022. When RSL president Bernardine Evaristo wrote in this paper that the charity “cannot take sides in writers’ controversies and issues, but must remain impartial”, Rushdie responded on X: “Just wondering if the Royal Society of Literature is ‘impartial’ about attempted murder, @BernardineEvari? (Asking for a friend.)”

Both Evaristo and the RSL responded on Twitter, stating that the mentioned line in the article was not directed towards Rushdie. Evaristo also mentioned that the charity issued two statements regarding the attack.

Furthermore, criticism has been directed towards the RSL for rapidly increasing its number of fellows. In 2018, a program was introduced that resulted in 40 new fellows under the age of 40. Since Evaristo assumed the role of president in 2021, an additional 60 fellows have been chosen as part of the RSL Open initiative. This initiative’s goal is to address the organization’s past lack of diversity and select fellows from underrepresented communities, backgrounds, and experiences in the literary landscape of the UK.

In order to receive a fellowship, writers must have produced at least two “exceptional literary works”. However, there have been doubts raised by some writers about the significance of this award when given to those at the beginning of their careers. Former president Marina Warner expressed her concerns to the Observer in January, stating that it reflects a lack of regard for more experienced members and a disregard for the important history of the institution, which fellows hold dear.

In her Guardian column, Evaristo acknowledged that being named a fellow of the RSL is an incredible honor, but emphasized that no specific group or demographic should claim sole ownership of it.

According to McEwan, despite the intense debates and controversies, many RSL Fellows still have concerns regarding censorship, lack of transparency, and the election process for new members.

“The RSL’s lack of unwavering support for Salman Rushdie after the violent attack on his life was a reflection of a moral stance that is not shared by the majority,” he stated. “It would be wise for the Charity Commission to conduct an impartial investigation.”

The RSL spokesperson announced that the organization had chosen to report itself to the Charity Commission in response to false information being circulated about them.

According to the representative, there has not been any effort to censor. The selection process for new Fellows has been made public since changes were declared during the RSL’s 200th anniversary celebrations in the summer.

“The Review was not cancelled and Maggie Fergusson was not sacked [as she has claimed],” the representative added. “The magazine, which has no set date for publication, will come out in the spring and Maggie’s freelance tenure expired by mutual agreement.”

The spokesperson stated that upon reviewing the annual magazine proofs in early December, the RSL team and chair deemed them unsuitable for print. The outgoing editor was consulted regarding various concerns, such as style, editorial content, and tone, including the mention of the war in Gaza in a written piece. There was never any mention of editing the piece. However, the piece will be published as is in the upcoming spring issue of the magazine with a new design.

The board of trustees, known as the Council, will convene on Tuesday and release a statement following the meeting.

Source: theguardian.com